Families Atrophy, Bureaucracies Grow, Academics Exploit

When progressive activists launched their crusade to dismantle the natural family, few social scientists voiced concerns. Instead, most joined the choirs singing paeons to the gods of radical individualism, luminous deities promising endless happiness and autonomy to men and women who shed the oppressive restraints of marriage and family life. Savvy social scientists were even, sotto voce, sizing up the likely dependency of deracinated individuals on the bureaucracies of the Leviathan State. As the consequences of the progressive war against wedlock and family life become increasingly obvious, canny social scientists make great show of ritualized hand-wringing as they report the distress of the unmarried and family-less casualties of that war. But no one should be surprised when these social scientists turn from wringing their hands over the plight of those hurt by family decay not to soberly calling for a renewal of marriage and family but instead to advocating more statist replacements for wedlock and family.  

To see just how social scientists implement their strategy for converting evidence of the suffering consequent to family decay into justification for once again expanding the state, readers need only turn to two recent studies—one from the United States, one from Australia. These two studies document the vulnerability of a growing number of aging Americans and aging Australians, who can no longer find the home-based care often available to earlier generations through intact marriages and large families. But in both studies, the authors somehow manage to interpret their findings not as symptoms of the deterioration of the family but rather as opportunities for enlarging the state.

Affiliated with Virginia Tech and Purdue University, the authors of the American study parse data collected from a nationally representative sample of 1,352 men and women ages 65 and up, all of whom anticipated needing long-term care. About half (48%) of these individuals had expected to receive care from an adult child or adult child-in-law; a little over one-third (35%) had expected to receive care from a spouse.  Smaller percentages of older Americans had expected to receive care from friends or professional care-givers. Sadly, however, the study data reveal that almost one-third (32%) of those in the study failed to receive the care they had expected. Among those who did not receive the care they expected, the researchers found that slightly more than one third (37%) were receiving care from professional care-givers, one third (33%) were receiving informal care from someone they had not expected to receive such care from, and slightly less than one third (30%) were simply doing without care. The plight of this last group prompts the researchers to remark, “When needed care is not delivered, an individual is at significantly increased risk for emergency-department utilisation for falls and injuries, hospitalisation, early mortality, poor quality of life and general health decline.” 

The Purdue and Virginia Tech researchers recognize that marital status powerfully affects the likelihood that older Americans will find themselves without the care they had expected. “Unmet expectations [for care in this study] were associated with being unmarried,” the researchers report, calculating that, compared to married peers, unmarried older Americans were more than three times as likely to find themselves without the care they had expected (Odds Ratio of 3.077; p < 0.0001).  Further analysis reveals that “change in marital status from married to unmarried (divorce or death of spouse) . . . [was] associated with an increased likelihood of unmet expectations [for care].”

The sad circumstance of widowhood created care-giving challenges even when family life was stronger. In the past the natural family typically could meet these challenges, thanks to a large number of children and robust ties to extended family. But older men and women have grown more vulnerable, as this new study shows, in a social climate created by depressed marriage and fertility rates and elevated divorce rates, developments that reflect not the inevitability of mortality but the radically individualistic choices of a permissive era.  

But the American researchers evince no interest in confronting these adverse trends in family life, trends that progressive professors have themselves helped foster. Instead, these researchers scold individual older Americans for their unrealistic “overexpectation of care from friends and family members,” which has prevented them from investing in long-term care insurance. Even more telling, however, is the way these researchers indict government leaders for failing to formulate “a comprehensive plan to address the LTC [Long Term Care] needs of the ageing population.”  That researchers advocate such statist planning even at a time when “access to . . . public financial resources is diminishing” says a great deal about the ideology regnant among American academics contemplating family decay.  

The effect of that statist ideology in the Southern Hemisphere shows up in a recent study on the difficulty of providing home-based care to aging Australians. Conducted by scholars at the University of Melbourne, this new study focuses on data collected between 2010 and 2013 through 280,000 Aged Care Assessment Program evaluations, evaluations that determine whether Australians ages 65 and over who need care can continue to live in their own homes or must receive institutional care.  These data clearly reveal the importance of marital and parental status in determining whether an aging Australian can continue to live at home. 

The Melbourne scholars conclude that, “for both males and females, living with a coresident partner is strongly associated with a recommendation to remain living in the community [in their own homes],” compared to living with no care-giver in the home, a living circumstances that sharply elevates the likelihood of a recommendation of placement in institutional care. The researchers calculate that “males with a coresident partner are about 63% less likely and females about 42% less likely to have a residential-care [i.e., an institutional-care] recommendation, compared with those with no carer.” Though the researchers find “the effect of a coresident partner . . . to be more protective for men than women (p < 0.001),” they still characterize “the effect for women . . . [as] very strong.”

Through a parallel analysis, the Australian researchers establish that living with a child protects aging Australians from being moved into institutional care: They calculate that aging males living with a child are 53% less likely to be recommended for institutional care compared to peers living with no care-giver, while aging females are 32% less likely to be recommended for such care against the same standard of comparison.  

In using the morally antiseptic term “co-resident partner” rather than the marital terms “spouse,” “husband,” and “wife,” the Australian researchers signal their compliance with the political orthodoxy shielding progressivism from critique, despite its family-destroying effects, while also sustaining its Leviathan-building projects. It is hardly surprising, then, that in highlighting statistical predictions of “a significant increase in the number of men living alone,” the researchers stress increases in male longevity but say not one word about the effects of depressed marriage rates and elevated divorce rates—a suspicious omission given that Australian women still live significantly longer lives than do Australian men. 

To be sure, the Australian researchers do at least glancingly note two ways the retreat from family life has made it more difficult for the old to find care, both ignored by their American counterparts. First, the Australian scholars acknowledge that because of “the long term trend of fertility decline in Australia, average number of children ever born by future cohorts of older persons will be lower,” making it ever harder for aging men and women to rely on children for care. Second, the researchers note that “the trend for increased workforce participation amongst women” in care-giving ages has made it more difficult for the aging Australians to rely on daughters—or wives—for care. 

However, the Australian scholars identify no measures for reversing either of these trends when they lay out the policy recommendations they consider an apt response to the findings of their study. Even though their study shows how vulnerable old people become when they live without a “co-resident partner” and without a child, the researchers suggest no measures for fostering wedlock or increasing fertility. 

 To their credit, the researchers recognize “the long-standing policy preference for aged care to be delivered in the home rather than residential care settings,” and laudibly endorse that preference. But they apparently are not looking to alleviate the shortage of care-givers for the old by reinforcing enduring wedlock or by encouraging women to be homemakers. Rather, the researchers betray statist instincts recognizably similar to—perhaps even more pronounced than—those of their American colleagues. Indeed, the Australian researchers believe their findings mean “the Australian government should consider how coresident carers can be given additional support” through measures such as “rental relief” and “in-home respite care to enable them to participate in the workforce.”  

The architects of Leviathan have always tried to move women out of the home. Given that those who care for the old in their homes are overwhelmingly women, these architects would endorse policies that replace these care-givers with state surrogates so they can seek out-of-home employment.  The fact that rising employment rates among women have helped create the very problem that they are examining does not appear to disturb the authors of the new Australian study at all. After all, any study concluding with recommendations for enlarging the state at the expense of the family will attract support among politically correct professors.

But for social scientists genuinely concerned about the increasing difficulty in caring for the old in their own homes—in Seattle and in Sydney—perhaps it is finally time to stop interpreting studies documenting the high cost of family disintegration as justification for new statist projects and to start viewing them as compelling reason for renewing wedlock and family life. 

(Kathleen Abrahamson, Zachary Hass, and Laura Sands, “Likelihood That Expectations of Informal Care Will be Met at Outset of Caregiving in the USA,” BMJ Open 7.12 [2017]: e017791, Web; Jeromey B. Temple, Marijan Dukic, and Briony Dow, “Informal Care Relationships and Residential Aged Care Recommendations: Evidence from Administrative Data,” BMC Geriatrics 17 [2017]: 289, Web.)